Georgia players vow to ‘Do it for Dev,’ more than just words, Bulldogs set elite standard
ATHENS — A familiar face was missing on the practice field as Georgia opened spring football drills on Tuesday.
Devin Willock was supposed to be a starting offensive guard this season for the Bulldogs, having invested three years of hard work with a good attitude into a blossoming football career.
Instead, his Georgia teammates began the football portion of their offseason with heavy hearts, committed to a slogan of “Do it for Dev,” both on and off the field.
Willock, along with recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy, died in a vehicle crash in the early morning hours of Jan. 15, some 12 hours after the team celebrated its second consecutive national championship with a campus parade and ceremony at Sanford Stadium.
Kirby Smart still remembers that same broad smile on Willock’s face after the team celebrated its second consecutive national championship with a parade and ceremony at Sanford Stadium on Jan. 14, just two months ago.
Smart also recalls the heartache he felt when learning from an emergency room doctor Willock, a powerful 6-foot-7, 330-pound lineman recruited from Paramus Catholic in New Jersey, died after being ejected from the speeding SUV when it hit a brick building some 10 yards off the roadway.
WATCH: Nolan Smith sheds tears for Devin Willock, provides emotional testimony on team
Georgia tailback Kendall Milton noted Tuesday how the shine of the program’s second national championship went dim amid the darkness of a teammate’s shocking death.
“After the season it took away light from the national championship,” Milton said, “and it put all the focus on those situations, because that’s what was most important in the moment — and it still is most important.”
Receiver Ladd McConkey, like Milton a senior leader, made it clear Georgia has no intention of putting the death of Willock and LeCroy behind the team.
“It’s not like spring ball starts and so we’re just gonna be forgetting about it,” said McConkey, the player Smart selected to speak for the team first at the opening spring football press conference.
“They’ll forever be with us and be a part of this program.”
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In more than just spirit, as defensive tackle Zion Logue revealed during his media Q & A session.
“The other day we were looking at film,” Logue said, “and I saw my boy Dev, and it kind of hit me hard.”
Logue indicated he had to force himself to focus on the football element, even as things have changed around Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall in the wake of the off-season tragedy.
Smart has stressed team continuity these past few seasons, building what he refers to as a “connectedness” through skull sessions.
Georgia allocates time for players to learn about one another and share ambitions, revealing how and what motivates each player.
Logue shared how the camaraderie has grown even more intense and the team circle expanded to include the parents of the fallen program members.
“Guys are still wanting to be around here and love on each other, now we’re doing it a little bit harder because of the tragedy no one was expecting,” Logue said.
“You have to take what you can get out of it and love on their parents, Chandler’s parents and Devin’s.”
Logue explained how players from different position groups text those grieving parents to check up on them and ensure their well-being.
Smart revealed the University of Georgia has made sure the returning players have proper support, as well.
“It’s been a tough go with the death of Chandler and Devin,” Smart said. “As you guys know, it’s a tragic accident and our players have been through a lot when you talk about the health and mental health that some of our guys have needed since the accident.”
To Smart’s point, tears streamed down the face of Nolan Smith during his media presentation at the NFL Combine earlier this month.
“That’s one person that never did anything wrong,” Smith said, removing his glasses to wipe tears from his eyes.
“I’m sorry for his family, no one deserves to die like that … three years in a row that man showed up working, day in and day out …. do it for Dev, that’s what I tell them boys at Georgia, you lost a brother.”
It’s more than just a motto; it’s a commitment to maintaining a championship standard on and off the field.
“Coach Smart will tell us when we say ‘Do it for Dev,’ we have to put it into action, or else it’s just words,” Milton said.
“I feel like we’ve turned it into making it motivation to uphold the standard, because we know Devin was somebody that came in day in or day out, and whether it was hard or easy, he had the same attitude and came to work.”
The Bulldogs will hold the second of their 15 spring practices on Thursday, leading into the annual G-Day Game on April 15 at Sanford Stadium.